Saying goodbye. Modern Family fans — and some cast members — were left shocked when Phil’s father, Frank Dunphy, died on the Wednesday, January 15, episode of the hit ABC sitcom. Now, co-creator Christopher Lloyd is unpacking the surprising TV exit.
In an Entertainment Weekly interview published on Friday, January 17, the television producer, 59, explained that Frank’s death was a “bittersweet” choice he felt he had to make.
“It was a tough decision because you don’t ever want to let go of a character that you love,” he told the publication. “And I’ve always loved that character. However, we are in the final season, we’re looking to find more meaningful topics to deal with. And even more important than that, it gave us a chance to really take a look at how Phil came to be Phil.”
During Wednesday’s episode, Phil (Ty Burrell) begins to worry that Frank (Fred Willard) may be experiencing early signs of dementia after he is found wandering aimlessly through a grocery store for hours. The father-son duo have a heartfelt conversation in a barbershop before Frank’s off-screen death is revealed.
The Dunphy patriarch’s passing helped to explain why Phil, the “dead-center of the heart of the show,” has always been “little bit of this manchild,” according to Lloyd.
“It was a chance to lend some dimension to that. That isn’t just Phil being goofy, that’s actually a choice,” the producer dished. “He learned this from his dad, that somebody can be the one who keeps life light, and that’s important not just in a family but maybe in a community. That’s what he grew up seeing his dad do. So we see that it’s a choice on Phil’s part that he sees the world around him needing sparkly lights and he’s going to be those sparkly lights. And it was a bittersweet way of seeing where he learned that and that it’s sort of an ethic on his part and not just a goofy characteristic.”
Frank’s untimely passing not only devastated longtime fans, but also impacted the cast as well. Sarah Hyland took to her Instagram Story on Wednesday to express her sadness over the character’s death — and accidentally spoiled the moment for viewers.
“So I don’t read scripts of episodes of Modern Family that I’m not in, so I just found out that my grandpa’s dead along with all of you,” she announced. “I still feel special.”
She went on to correct her slip-up saying, “Oh, yeah, I guess I should have put a spoiler alert for Grandpa Frank dying, but I was just caught off guard. As his granddaughter, you’d think I’d be invited to the funeral.”
The family sitcom has not shied away from killing off major characters in the past. Claire (Julie Bowen) and Mitchell’s (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) mother, DeDe (Shelley Long), died during season 10 in October 2018.
Modern Family airs on ABC Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET.
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